Lighting: Play Of Brilliants

The Hall of Mirrors at Chateau De Versailles

One of the most powerful influences in the elements and principals of design, lighting plays a phenomenal impact on the mood, enjoyment and visual aesthetic of an interior design scheme.

An influential set of designers, past and present, use theory, technology and talent to land upon specific lighting schemes to compliment, embellish and indeed elevate, interior design.

In the practical scene, lighting, either natural or artificial, needs to meet a set of criteria for room functionality, safety and efficiency. Layer to that, the opportunity it offers to create spaces within, extraordinary areas for moods, focus and interest.

A pioneer in the specificity of lighting in architecture and interior design, American Richard Kelly was an expert who worked with top architects like Mies van der Rohe, Eero Sarrinen and Kevin Roche in the 1950s and 1960s.

Richard Kelly, lighting designer extraordinaire

A stage lighting expert, Kelly revolutionised lighting schemes and he created a number of lighting approaches which are still used widely in residential, retail and hospitality design; focal glow, ambient luminescence, and play of brilliants.

His work at the “Four Seasons Restaurant” within the Seagram Building, NYC showcased the latter, “Play of brilliants” approach, where light was reflected subtlety from shimmering metals and golds on the walls and through water from a central pool. All fixtures were recessed, so diners could enjoy the soft, relaxing effect of the lighting alone.

The Four Seasons Restaurant in The Seagram Building – Play of Brilliants by Richard Kelly

While the phrase ‘Play Of Brilliants’ was coined by Kelly in the mid-20th Century, it can easily be applied in retrospect to many, old-worldly interior designs. Think Louis XIV Paris.

The incredible Hall of Mirrors, dating from 1678, is the most famous room at Chateau De Versailles. Outside of its grand scale and exquisite décor, the way the light, reflection, shadow and shade effect the room is breath-taking.

The Hall of Mirrors at Chateau De Versailles

The work of Jules Hardouin-Mansart, who was the successor to Versaille’s main architect Louis Le Vau, the design was suitable to the grandeur of the large gilded gallery, with 357 mirrors bedecking 17 arches, a vast number of crystal chandeliers and glass doors. Quite literary, a play of brilliants, to coin Kelly’s term.

As designers embrace history, these approaches will most certainly have been considered by Bjarke Ingels and his team at BIG for their work in the 2019 development of a new flagship for famous Galeries Lafayette Department Store on the Champs-Élysées in Paris.

 The Wow factor; the lighting at Galeries LaFayette. All images courtesy of Galeries Lafayette
The Wow factor; the lighting at Galeries LaFaytte. All images courtesy of Galeries Lafayette

The impressive new retail concept, a “laboratory” more than a store, provides a hybrid of areas for sales, showcase, experience, and exhibition, and the lighting approach is key to the differentiation. The beautiful result is visually and physically stimulating to all the senses.

A focal point of the scheme is the light-filled central atrium, bounded by a system of chunky marble columns, a surface which reflects and bounces light. Its airiness and openness, and lighting which verges on being natural, give it a sense of town square, a meeting point for connectivity and social interaction.

The impressive ceiling at Galeries LaFayette. All images courtesy of Galeries Lafayette
Look up; the impressive ceiling at Galeries LaFayette. All images courtesy of Galeries Lafayette

Lighting is one of the most exciting aspects of the interior design process, and fittingly, one which requires research and planning. To understand the functionality of a space, is to understanding how to apply lighting techniques which not only fulfills the needs of the inhabitants, but to wow and inspire them.


D-tale is a series of interior design stories, the tales of splendid and fascinating places where history meets creativity. Follow me on Instagram.